‘This impacts our lives’: Service outages present acute challenges for virtual learning, remote working

Hanover County

MONTPELIER, Va. (WRIC) — With so many people working and learning from home amid the coronavirus pandemic, internet access is paramount.

What happens when there’s a service outage?

Some CenturyLink customers in Montpelier dealt with three days of inconsistent phone and internet service last week, meaning they couldn’t send emails or download files — or even call 9-1-1.

“There was no dial tone, so there was no way to make an outgoing call to anyone or to receive a call from anyone,” Montpelier resident John Madison said. “Fortunately, I have a cell phone, so I was able to use that, but even cell phone service out here is a little spotty.”

8News reached out to the Hanover County Public Safety Emergency Communications Department to see if there were any noted issues with their service.

“We are not aware of any service disruptions involving CenturyLink customers in the area of Montpelier,” Deputy Director Charlie Udriét said. “No notifications have been provided to us related to any issues.”

Madison said that’s exactly what he experienced too, no notification.

“I started making contact with them to find out what was going on, and was it just me or was it an area-wide outage, and you get very conflicting information,” he said. “There was no advance warning that it was going to go down.”

Unplanned service disruptions can happen in the event of an accident or severe weather, for example. But Madison said he was told the outages were planned after they had already started happening, giving him no time to prepare.

“It was the third day that I found out through one of the people I was talking to at CenturyLink; one person had said it was a planned three-phase — that this was the last phase — which is the first time I had heard this was some sort of planned thing,” Madison said. “If I had known it was going to go down during those periods of time when the service was in place, I could’ve downloaded the things that I needed to do, I could’ve sent the emails that I needed to send.”

While Madison told 8News that his children are grown, other students in the neighborhood would’ve faced the same challenges in completing their educational work from home without internet access.

“With everything that’s going on now, with so many people working at home and then kids being at home with their schooling, communication’s really important right now, and letting folks know that this is what’s going to be done,” he said. “It just seems like it could’ve been done in a more thoughtful, considerate nature.”

CenturyLink sent an email to Madison after service had been restored, apologizing for the inconvenience and providing links for further support.

CenturyLink sent an email to Madison after three days of inconsistent service. (Provided by John Madison)

But Madison said the service provider should have emailed customers in advance, letting them know that service would be disrupted.

“If it was an accident, I mean, that can happen any time. I’m sympathetic to that,” he said. “But this sounds like it was more of a planned upgrade or adjustment to something, which, again, I understand, but communicate that.”

8News reached out to CenturyLink to find out whether there was a service outage in the area and received the following statement.

We’re aware of reports of a potential fiber cut affecting some customers in the Charlottesville, VA area. Our techs are working to fix the issue. We will provide updates as we learn more. We are thankful for your patience.

Regardless of the cause of the outage, this incident is a further reminder of how virtual learning and remote working rely on consistent internet access in a world of coronavirus-related restrictions and precautions.

“This impacts our lives,” Madison said. “When you have so many people who are working from home, so many students who are doing school work from home, taking it down with no notice for several days in a row during the middle of the day is just — it puts a lot of people in a bind that could’ve been avoided.”

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